Welcome back! This is a series on “positive motivation” bases on a e-course I’m taking. The foundation of this is rooted in positive physiology.
These series, and the e-course takes a look at the different aspects of motivation and how they can affect your personal success and reaching your personal goals.
Again, so far we’ve been talking about the “why” and “what” of motivation. Today we’re going to explore systems for the achievement of personal goals.
The Goal Systems Approach to Motivation
This “goal systems” approach is in mechanistic in nature. It sees humans similar to robots that need to be correctly programmed in order to achieve their personal goals and objective. I don’t know about you, but I don’t resonate with the idea that we are like programmable robots! Although at some level we are all programmed, I like to believe that we can choose the programs to install.
Anyway, when this mechanical approach is combined with the humanistic SDT (Self-determination theory) approach, there is a very powerful resulting process.
To introduce the goal-systems perspective, let’s go back to the “why” question of motivation. SDT says it is best to do anything “because it is enjoyable” or “because I believe in it,” (intrinsic) and not “because I have to” or “because I ought to” (extrinsic).
But if you think about it, the “why” of many behaviors of yourself or others, it very often turns out to be a bit more complex than simply “how I feel about it.” Often one goal is related to another and they can be more accurately described by statements such as “because I needed to complete X before I could move on to Z” or “because X brings me closer to Z.” In this arrangement, X (the lower-level goal) supplies the “how” of Z (the higher-level goal), and Z supplies the “why” for X.
This is how I coach around setting goals. I have my clients determine an “achievable outcome”, something one year out. Then they set SMARTER goals for 1, 3, 6, and 9 months out. The we break it down into strategies, tactics and an action plan.
This has worked VERY well. So let’s take a look several points in a goals setting system.
Goal Systems Point 1: Hierarchical Organization
This point illustrates, action is hierarchically organized, that is longer-term goals, principles, and values set the agenda for shorter-term skills, processes, and procedures. Then the shorter-term action steps give the means of bridging the gap the between the present state and a desired future state.
In other words, short-term goals act like stepping-stones that help break up overwhelming goals and give us a clear path for progress. In NLP terms we call this “chunking down.”
Imagine, for example you want to write a book. If you sat in front of a blank page on your computer screen and thought about the overwhelming task of churning out a 350 page story, you might give up, even though it is a meaningful goal to you.
Instead, what you would do is chunk down writing the book into smaller goals. You might consider writing a page or a chapter per day. Then these smaller goals will seem much easier to carry out and still putt you on the road to the long-term goal.
Goal systems are how we pull ourselves into the future — first envisioning, and then actually creating, how we want things to be. In addition, most if not all of our momentary behaviors can be located somewhere within the overall system.
The ideal action system should have a clear set of characteristics. First, every goal, at every level, should be furnished with lower-level plans, skills, and procedures, that allow people to keep bridging the gap between the present state and desired future state.
Bringing this concept back to reality, ‘self-regulatory’ tools are necessary in order to pursue personal goals effectively and efficiently. That is, goals are not just products of random luck or the shotgun approach. Succeeding at them is not a matter of effortless trial and error.
Instead, we have to be in control of our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and often at a conscious level in order to succeed. First, we need to be able to keep the goal in mind; second, we need to be able to mentally compare it to our current situation, noticing discrepancies between the goal and the current situation; third, we need to be able to act effectively to bridge the gap, and fourth, we need to be able to detect when the discrepancy is gone (when we have achieved the goal!), so we can stop taking action and celebrate!
The Four Steps of Goal Systems
- Keep the goal in mind
- Evaluate our current situation, and be able to compare it to where we want to be in terms of the ultimate goal.
- Understand what actions we need to take in order to reduce the discrepancy and move closer to the goal.
- Recognize when we have achieved the goal so we can quit working and pat ourselves on the back!
Goal Systems Point 2: Goal Conflict
A second positive goal system characteristic is, goals should be consistent with each other, and not conflict with one another.
For example, it would be hard to simultaneously achieve the goals of becoming an Olympic level athlete and reading all of the masterpieces of world literature! The problem here would be a time conflict. There also can be material conflicts between goals, i.e. ”I want to own a private yacht and helicopter” but “I am dedicated to the idea of working in the non-profit sector for a low salary.” As well as logical conflicts between goals, i.e. to “become a more agreeable and cooperative person” may conflict with the goal to “aggressively grow my business by beating out the local competition”.
Chronic goal conflict is associated with chronic low-level stress and with increasing health problems over time, and thus it is worth the effort to untangle and sort out any such conflicts.
In NLP parts integration might be used to resolve these types of conflicts. People who actively pursue conflicting goals find themselves frustrated, ambivalent, or stretched thin.
So far we’ve discussed that in a “positive goal system,”
- Desired outcomes should be helped by goals at lower levels of the system, and should help goals at higher levels of the system.
- People should be able to realize when action is needed towards a goal, and take action effectively.
- Goals should not conflict with other goals at the same level of the system, and ideally, would help and support those same-level goals.
So, how can we tell if these are the case?
One way is to diagram your own goal system thoroughly, and to explore the helpful and harmful interconnections between the different goals.
Goal Systems Point 3: The Importance of Success Expectancies
A very important issue for motivation, from the goal systems perspective, is a person’s expectancies for success. Having high expectations for success (or a high sense of self-efficacy) provides many resources.
For example, when unexpected difficulties emerge, high-expectancy people do not immediately become discouraged and withdraw their effort; No…dig into their mental strength and keep going, and why shouldn’t they, after all this is the warrior mentality.
They expect to succeed in the end. Having high expectancies also allows us to proceed with social confidence and conviction, persuading and selling others on our intentions and thereby securing their help and cooperation.
But what if a person’s expectations seem overly optimistic, unrealistic, or even self-delusory? This can happen, but there this is still an open question of “how unrealistic is too unrealistic?” The existing research suggests that overall, positive illusions provide more benefits than drawbacks, often helping people turn former illusions into current reality. As a result, the take-home message for motivators is:
Always display confidence in your or your friends’ abilities to do what needs to be done, and do not be too quick to criticize your or their high ambitions!
Goal Systems Point 4: Approach and Avoidance Goals Differ
Another important distinction from the goal systems perspective is between approach motivation and avoidance motivation. In NLP we take about “move away from” and “move towards” goals.
Approach motivation is working toward a desirable future outcome, such as making a sale or getting a new client, whereas avoidance motivation refers to trying to avoid an undesirable outcome, such as trying not to get fired or not becoming overweight.
Most goals fall into approach or avoidance. The research shows that approach framing is preferable — both for promoting greater performance and achievement, and for promoting better mood and feeling.
First, avoidance goals contain an implied reference to failure, which can in the end automatically cue failure. If I am trying not to fail, I am aware of failure as a constant possibility. Just think of when we tell children “Don’t spill your drink!” – and then they do – at least in part because we primed that thought in them!
Second, achieving an approach goal simply requires finding one path to success, from among the many paths that may be available; in contrast, achieving an avoidance goal requires avoiding (or fending off) all possible paths to failure. The latter is often more difficult.
Third, the goal system is built to take action, not to avoid action. This makes avoidance goals logically awkward to pursue.
The take-home message for motivators is therefore:
Try to use approach (moving towards) rather than avoidance (moving away from) framing, whenever possible.
This can extend even to goals like “lose weight;” as framed, this has an avoidance component (avoid weight), and might be better framed as “exercise more” or “eat better.”
- In this post, we discussed the goal systems viewpoint upon motivation. This mechanistic approach, “positive motivation” means to be a high-functioning “robot”, with a well-constructed goal system full of action plans, strategies, skills, sensory acuity, and tactics, and with little conflict between goals. In this case, one makes swift progress towards the goals in the system.
- Goal systems thinking can tell us a lot about the “how” and “why” of motivation, by showing which higher-level goals supply the “why” for lower-level goals, and which lower-level goals supply the “how” for higher-level goals. They can also further clarify the “how” with concepts such as planning, bridging the gap, execution intent, and preparation.
- But we also noticed that goal system theories don’t talk about how the higher-level goals get into the system in the first place, i.e. did I really decide to become a doctor or this what my parents wanted?
- This shows the importance of picking goals that represent one’s true values, interests, and dispositions, rather than the insistence of others – in this case the Self owns the goal system, rather than being owned by it.
OK…I hope you go a lot out of this post…I know I did! So…what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.
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